The fact I know it’s been one hell of an off-season for the NRL is telling in itself. Generally it is only when players make the frontpage or top news bulletins that I become aware of their misadventures and that’s happened often enough in recent weeks for me to be across several scandals.
In the past month four players, Jack de Belin, Jarryd Hayne, Zane Musgrove and Dylan Walker, have been charged with violent acts against women. Tautau Moga and Michael Chee-Kam are two other NRL players who will be facing court soon for general assault charges not relating to women.
It’s hardly surprising that the NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has described this as the off season ‘from hell’ and cut his holiday short to deliver a message to players and the community that things are changing.
— Jessica Halloran (@JessiHalloran) January 21, 2019
In a column for The Daily Telegraph Greenberg wrote that harsher punishments will be enforced for players who commit violence against women, indicating offenders won’t be welcome in the competition.
“If you want to disrespect women you should go and find another profession. Not rugby league,” Greenberg declared.
If any of the players are convicted “the ramifications will be far greater than they have been in the past”.
“We have to allow processes to take their place especially issues that are in the court of law,” Greenberg said. “We have some very serious charges applied to players. I won’t talk about those individually. They are very serious charges.
“If players are found guilty of those types of conduct then what they will lose is their livelihood and their opportunity to play in the game. I can’t make it any clearer than that.”
“I’m determined it won’t happen again. If we have to go have bigger on deterrents and punishment on players then so be it. If players are convicted of criminal offences that have violence against women, that will now sit at the very highest scale. We have historically not put the words life bans in place but what we do is we simply take people’s registration off them and we don’t allow them to participate.
“How long they spend out of the game will be determined down the track. I can’t make it any clearer if you are found guilty of these criminal offences there is no place in the game for you.”
They are important and potentially powerful words – if those words are consistently and unequivocally backed up with action. If they are it will mark the beginning of a long overdue and important change.
It is, broadly speaking, the same change we need to see everywhere. In workplaces, in parliament, in sport. Everywhere.
The change in which sexual assault and domestic violence are never dismissed or minimised or justified. The change in which zero tolerance for violence against women isn’t rhetoric but reality.
Last week, the day after Aiia Maasarwe was tragically found dead in Melbourne after being brutally murdered, Clementine Ford wrote a powerful column imploring the men of Australia to pick a side.
There is SO much in this piece by @clementine_ford that resonates beyond the shores of Australia.
Do yourself a favour and take the time to read this powerful piece.
— Dr Yassin Brunger (@YBrunger) January 21, 2019
“Men, you need to ask yourselves which side of that line you want to be on. Do you want to be one of the bricks in the wall that adds to the foundation of sexism and misogyny? That helps create the structure to which the worst of men can ascend to the most frightening of levels? Or do you want to be part of the team that’s tearing it down?
It’s your choice. Pick your side.”
The piece proved highly divisive: the headline and narrative about men picking sides struck many – women and men – as going too far. Lots of readers disagreed with it and said it blamed all men for the violent actions of one individual but that reading is far too simplistic.
As Clementine Ford argued these acts of violence don’t occur in a vacuum. Making sexist jokes is, obviously, not the same as sexually assaulting a woman but it plants the same seeds of disrespect from which those crimes spread. Sexism and misogyny grease a deadly wheel for women. A wheel that cost 69 women their lives in 2018.
Easily the most abhorrent grease that keeps the deadly wheel spinning is applied when a man is convicted of a violent crime against a woman and his life remains unchanged.
The message that sends – unequivocally – is that in some instances a man’s right to live comfortably regardless of his crime ranks above the right of a woman to live unencumbered by violence. Examples of this are prolific and the consequences are far-reaching.
The idea that any man’s career or club or financial position ought not suffer because of a criminal aberration, a drunken mistake, in which he has violated a woman is toxic. And yet it’s the reality we see too often. That reality creates the paradigm in which violence against women is tolerated: where women are killed week after week at the hands of their partners without so much as a front page report or emergency response.
This needs to change and the only way that will happen is when every single person in a position to effect that, enforces it. Where they recognise that permitting or justifying or excusing the violence of one man has consequences well beyond that individual.
That is the line we need to draw and it is not just men who need to pick a side, it’s women too.